Ring ring rang the phone. Brett Jones introduced himself. He told me that he and a curator from Para/site in Hong Kong were putting together an exhibition all about exchange, in a collaborative project between the two ARIs. Artists from Hong Kong and Melbourne would show together in both venues. The second iteration (art folks love that word) would open at Anthony St a few days after the Hong Kong opening. The works in the second show allowed the artists to respond to the experience, or to each-other’s work.
This was my introduction to West Space and how it worked. In Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of installing Raafat Ishak’s work. Then I pinned up my rambling collection of cuttings and ephemera. Each cutting dealt with Islands and Island mentality, microcosms and copy-worlds from newspaper clippings of ‘boats’ filled with refugees heading for Australia to cartoons of rafts, snaps of dinghies, postcards of seals crammed on a mid-ocean rock, and a story about a person stranded by the tide and so on. A government official came from the embassy. She was really nice and showed an interest and her card. I remember the rising discomfort at some of the subject matter of my cuttings. She showed good grace. I should get that work out again.
The two organisations constructed an evolving ‘catalogue’ held together with Chicago screws. Para/site seemed to run like an idealist’s co-op. Thirty minutes before the opening a cluster of volunteers and artists appeared and assembled the catalogue, laughing and chatting away. Parts could be added at will. The next day at a market, I met a man selling copies of vintage photographs of their movie stars. I loved the whole board. I asked if I could just buy the whole thing. He kindly told me that they were not originals. I tried to let him know that I was aware of that, and I liked them all the more for that – somehow. I brought all those snaps back and pinned them on the West Space pin-board outside the gallery. I loved that old notice-board too. Years later when we were moving the gallery, Phip and I grabbed it and brought it with us to Bourke St. We couldn’t leave it behind. (Apparently the original West Space sign remains in place in Footscray).
When the Hong Kong artists came to Melbourne, one of them put a donation box on the wall hoping to fund new work. Together, we laughed a lot about that. Later I would swap a work with another of the Para/site crew (Warren) when he returned for a residency at Monash Uni. I guess that’s a practical cultural exchange. He chose a photo I’d taken of a detail of a piece of sky-writing in process. This fragment looked like a ‘less than’ sign. I called it Less than Sky. Later it turned out that Warren didn’t know what a less-than sign was, or what sky writing was. I hadn’t thought that they might be specific ‘Western’ signs. Because the photo was labelled as a digital image, he’d assumed I’d doctored it. Warren’s name turned out to be a practical Western substitute.
We added pages to the catalogue, and so did they.